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Toes on the foot. The innermost toe (bottom-left in image), which is normally called the big toe, is the hallux.

Main article: Feet (anatomy)

Toes are the digits of the foot of an animal. Animal species such as cats that walk on their toes are described as being digitigrade. Humans, and other animals that walk on the soles of their feet, are described as being plantigrade; unguligrade animals are those that walk on hooves at the tips of their toes.

The toes are, from medial to lateral:

  • Hallux (big toe)
  • Index toe
  • Middle toe
  • Fourth toe
  • Little toe (Colloquially known as the Pinky toe or the Baby toe in the USA)[1]

Toe anatomy and physiology[]

Main article: Phalanges of the foot

Bones of the left foot. Plantar surface.

The anatomy of the human foot consists of numerous bones and soft tissues which support the weight of the upright human. The toes specifically assist the human while walking[2], providing balance, weight-bearing, and thrust during the gait. Toe bones articulate around the metatarsal bones which make up the central portion of the human foot. Movements are generally instigated via tendons actuated by muscles in the lower leg.

Humans typically have five toes. Exceptions include polydactyly (too many toes), and syndactyly or amputation (too few toes). The four smallest toes consist of four phalanx bones, while the largest consists of three phananx bones and two sesamoid bones. Many of the flexor tendons are shared, making it impossible to move individual toes independently; however, some prehensility, or grasping capability, does exist for most humans.

Forefoot shape, including toe shape, exhibits significant variation among people; these differences can be measured and has been statistically correlated with ethnicity[3]. Such deviations may affect comfort and fit for various shoe types. Research conducted by Freedman for the U.S. Army[4] indicated that larger feet may still have smaller arches, toe length, and toe-breadth. Specifically measurable toe and forefoot metrics for humans include[3]:

  • height
  • breadth and girth
  • ball length
  • digital pattern
  • heel to toe length
  • footprint layout

Each of these metrics has been correlated to particular ethnic groups, but absolute deviations in dimensions are relatively small; such deviations may or may not be practically significant from the ergonomic or comfort standpoint.

Other toe uses[]

Toe bending consists of moving toes downward and causing the toes to become bent, although not all people can bend the toes on the foot. Big toes are often bent along with the index, middle (and sometimes ring and little) toes. However, there are many people whosoever bend their index, middle, even ring and little toes without their big toe bending. There are many people who cannot bend the toes at all.

In toe bend cases, some people are bending toes regarding reasons for picking up things using their own toes. Toe bending-particularly toes that are "double jointed" or flexible-can be good for picking up items (shoes, pens, fruit stems, telephone cords, etcetera). Toe bending can be beneficial exercise or entertaining art and even fun! Toe bending-called by some as toe curling or as toe scrunching-can have benefits but some problematic issues also.

Toe straightening consists of the index toes, middle toes, sometimes even the ring toe straightening out when pressing against the floor. Double jointed or flexible index, middle toes (sometimes ring toes) often but don't always straighten out when they are touching surfaces or touching floor. Many people come rather close to straightening their own toes out but they don't quite straighten out. Many others' toes cannot get anywhere close to straightening themselves out; some people have curved, crooked and tilted toes. Everyone's toes are different.

Some people, and particularly people who lost their hands due to accidents, diseases or did not have hands from their births, or whomever are without arms resulting from accidents, or were born without having arms, use their toes to pick up things, like credit cards, or type and write things with paper, with computers or using typewriters.


A sprain or strain to the small interphalangeal joints of the toe is commonly called a stubbed toe.[5] A sprain or strain where the toe joins to the foot is called turf toe. A bunion is a structural deformity of the bones and the joint between the foot and big toe, and may be painful.[6] Long-term use of improperly sized shoes can cause misalignment of toes, as well as other orthopedic problems.

See also[]

Look up this page on
Wiktionary: Toes (anatomy)

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
  • Ainhum
  • Phalanges of the foot
  • Finger, for the hand digits
  • Hallux
  • Morton's toe
  • Polydactyly and Syndactyly
  • Toe cleavage
  • Toe tag
  • Toe nail
  • Webbed toes


  1. Physical Rehabilitation Medicine - The Pinky Toe
  2. Janey Hughes, Peter Clark, & Leslie Klenerman. The Importance of the Toes in Walking. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Vol. 72-B, No. 2. March, 1990. [1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ethnic differences in forefoot shape and the determination of shoe comfort. Hawes, Sovak, Miyashita, Kang, Yosihuku, and Tanaka. Ergonomics, Vol. 37, No. 1, Page 187. 1994. Available at [2]
  4. Freedman, A., Huntington, E.C., Davis, G.C., Magee, R.B., Milstead, V.M. and Kirkpatrick, C.M.. 1946. Foot Dimensions of Soldiers (Third Partial Report), Armored Medical Research Laboratory, Fort Knox, Kentucky.
  5. Your Health - Toe Sprain
  6. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. Bunions. URL accessed on 2008-03-05.

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